“Me and My Hill Climb Bike”

There are some fantastic bikes and riders in this short video taken from Cycling Weekly, including Paul Brierley, riding his 25th consecutive national. Yikes. Lynn Hamel is filmed riding and reflecting on her course record. Matt Pilkington’s rear brake is quite classy. Jack Pullar’s saddle is not built for long distances and is an example of finest drillium.

Perspectives on the National Hill Climb Championship

There are a number of photo galleries online.

Velo UK have a comprehensive set.

Chorley CC have captured some frightening hill climb gurns.

There is also a video nasty on youtube:

There are various race reports and blogs:

Cycling Weekly.

Tejvan’s take on things. 

Hamilton Wheelers…

This image is from Velo UK. It encapsulates the climb: rider in complete agony, struggling to keep it together, spectators having a whale of a time, beaming from ear to ear.

RTTC National Hill Climb Championship

Hill Climbs are Amazing

The National Hill Climb is the last event in a very long season. It attracts riders from all disciplines, anxious to avoid heading into the long winter of rain and wind with memories of a slack last race. It’s also one of the most atmospheric events in the amateur racing calendar, although its amateur status is compromised slightly by the frequent presence of professional roadmen – nevertheless this is encouraged and adds spice to the mix.

It took place today on the Rake in Lancashire and was organised by Peter Graham, a sprightly and droll character who won the event more than once in the late 1950s. He also provides the commentary from his panopticon at the very steepest part of the course, the last 200 yards of 25%. It goes without saying that the organisation was amazing and it felt as though the whole town had come out to watch. There were other luminaries on the climb including elite cyclist Rik Waddon.

One of the challenging things about the RTTC National Championship is that no two years are ever the same. This year’s running, at about 950 yards and 2 and half minutes for the winners, could not be more different to last year’s epic slow death, the 4.4 miles of Long Hill near Buxton. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to find out that the height gain on the Rake is more pronounced than that of last year’s. One thing is for certain, the event will return to the Rake again and again, but will never ever go back to Long Hill.

I rode fixed today as the defining old school gesture in a defiantly old school hill climb season. My bike attracted no end of admiring glances and comments, including one chap who said simply, ‘you’re bike is amazing. It really is’. Cycling Weekly also interviewed my bike whilst I was in the toilets. Fame by proxy. I opted for a 57” gear, a few inches shorter than the supposed ‘Rake gear’ of 59, the course record gear of champion Jim Henderson and other sprightly hill warriors. I forgot the basic tenet of fixed wheel hill-slaying: the gear of champions is not the gear of mortals. More on this shortly.

The climb starts at a mild 10%, pulling away from the library in downtown Ramsbottom. It’s a heavy start which is alleviated only slightly by the milder slope to follow, a piffling 300 meters of 2 to 3 percent. There were quite a few spectators and cowbells on the lower slopes, including 5 time winner Jim Henderson who cheered me on raucously. It was quite a feeling and I’d like to have enjoyed it more if I wasn’t hell bent on riding as hard as I could and locked into my hill-climb gurnface. Instead I managed a mental acknowledgement that I was being cheered on by a legend of the sport. I think at this point I probably looked quite smooth, 100 yards out of the gate, in the first flush of the race.

The flatter section supposedly offered respite, but not in any tangible form. It’s too short a climb to have any moments of rest, you just have to throw all your toys out of the pram at once, leaving nothing short. As soon as the soft section ends (and begins), it’s time for purgatory, a savage and lingering death at the hands of a real wall of noise, sound, penury, pain and suffering and vicarious cheering. Even at number 77, relatively early on the card, there was a dense tunnel of people lining the sides of the steep canyon of despair, each voice shouting and imploring, revelling in the pain of the contestants. Somewhere on the slope was Christian, waving a BSCC jersey. I wouldn’t have known.

A hill climb on the rake is unlike anything else you will ever do on a bicycle.

As the road kicked up ahead of my front wheel, my head went down and I was out of the saddle forcing the pedals through each revolution. The gear got taller and taller and taller. Over the 300 yards I slowed down and I knew I was over-geared but also just had to push through and get up. I can say with honesty that I was nervous and afraid of this section and also nervous and afraid that I had gone one tooth too big. I was genuinely worried I might fall off, or slip, or grind to an undignified halt, it’s that steep. Instead I laboured and struggled but kept it going.

I’ve never really gone into extreme debt on a climb. Some might view this as a failing of mine. It’s the essential ingredient of the hill climber, the last weapon in the armoury. I’ve felt sick and bit yucky for a while after some big efforts. Generally though I finish fairly fresh, riding through the line and cruising to a halt. Today, at around the 150 metres to go, the world around me began to collapse in on itself. It felt like reality itself was slipping away and my grasp on what was happening to my body and lungs had altered immeasurably.

Halfway up a 25% section in a National Hill Climb strange and slightly unnerving stuff begins to happen. My hearing went in and out, people were shouting and the words headed out and massed together in a synaesthetic swirl of colour, my eyes were showing signs of pain, dark splotches at the periphery of vision, and all the time the tunnel of noise and sound and people, now massed as one indescribable  wall of everything, crept inwards.

But there was a moment of ridiculous clarity: one voice stood out above the rest, I could suddenly hear Peter Graham, “…and this is Paul Jones, Bristol South, and … and… it looks a bit overgeared does that’. And I knew he was right. As I hit the lamp-post where the gradient eases to a mild 20% I resolved to get back on top of the monstrous gear and get it turning. To be honest, it was only a little bit too big, and only for a short section, it just happened to be the 25% section. I’m not sure it cost me anytime, and over the full distance I think it might have made me ride a bigger race than I would have if i’d spun up.

But by then I was chaff waiting to be pecked up by the birds. My lungs and legs were gone and I silently turned the pedals and crossed the line. 100 metres further along I paused, stood and gasped my way back into consciousness. I rode through the catchers, I could probably have done with catching, it was appealing, but in that moment I was unable to make the decision.  I had no control of the bike.

There are horses for courses. Today was a day for the puncheurs and the hardcore sprinters with a decent power to weight ratio. It was not a day for the lanky, thin, long striplings. It was a violent and abusive climb. For this peculiar reason it was utterly fantastic. I can’t imagine wanting it any other way, it’s a true test that takes the rider way over and above any semblance of pace or reason. The sensation of riding up through the top of the Rake was unlike anything I have experienced before. It was also the hardest thing I have ever done on a bike, by which i mean it required the most brutal, alienating, savage and physically outrageous effort.

Today was a day for Jack Pullar, a ferociously fast rider over the shorter stuff. Matt Clinton, working with a 55” gear to optimum effect, took his umpteenth podium place. It was also a day for Glyn Griffiths, the BSCC pocket dynamo, who took 8th place with a spectacular ride. Rob Gough was 7th, representing the Westcountry with souplesse.

Glyn rides to a brilliant 8th place.

Tejvan was probably first of the tall thin chaps in 13th place. Lynn Hamel took the ladies’ course record with a staggering 3.09. I managed 35th place with 2.51 and I am pleased. There were about 30 riders within 3 seconds or so. I claimed some scalps on a difficult and cold day. I did not disgrace myself on a climb that did its (un)level best to disgrace me, and I rode as hard and as fast as I could. I managed a dead heat with Ben Lane of GS Metro, who also rode as hard and as fast as he could.

Ben Lane of GS Metro
Tejvan in full flight

And now, after a season that started in february, I am due some cakes and ale. There will be a full and lyrical report on the eating of the cakes and ale in the forthcoming weeks.

Last Rides

Autumn Sweater

I went out on the hill climb weapon this morning for a last session prior to Sunday’s race. It involved several repetitions of short and steep hills in and around Bristol. I did Constitution Hill 3 times and Clifton Vale/Hensmans Hill 3 times.

I then rode through Ashton Court which was still and quiet in the damp autumnal weather. There were some scary looking stags making horrible and angry noises in some kind of lascivious deersex way.

Deer noise

I’m going to give the Rake the once over on Saturday, but that’s it until the race on Sunday… only 3 minutes left.

Anatomy of A Hill Climb

Once i’d decided that I was going to go fixed this year, and therefore go fixed properly, I set  about converting my winter frame, a bob jackson vigorelli path/track iron, into a fully-fledged hillkiller. It took me longer than i thought and i went down a few blind alleys in search of weight savings. I also knew that i faced a simple handicap in that the frame and fork weight was about 1600g.

I had to swap the fork and front end out to make any significant gains. This is much easier said than done, finding a 1″ threadless carbon fork with carbon steerer that is light and stiff is very tricky, a bit like looking for a block of ossau iraty in Asdabedminster. In the end, and for a bit of a premium, i tracked one down on the ebay. I suspect a few other people had the same idea because it was a proper bunfight. It was worth it in the end, saving a bit more than half a kilogramme.

I also ran a 3/32 drivetrain, i imagined it to be lighter than a butch eighth pitch chain, but might be wrong. Weightweenies was a valuable (if pornographic) resource during my quest for lightness. They have a useful database of feathery things. I am aware that through all of this I was essentially trying really hard to create a really light bike when i already had a really light bike in the cupboard, but that’s not quite the full story. Building a fixed hillclimb machine is one of the most fun things you can do. It’s also a bike that has an absolutely defined purpose: riding uphill fast. The specialist nature of the task and the event appeals to that latent autism that all men possess.

Here is a more detailed list of the componentry.

1. Reynolds 631 Bob Jackson Vigorelli Frame, 57cm; 1700g; Carbon fork and steerer; 420g; 3TTT ARX Pro Stem 150g; Chopped bars, 220g; Cane Creek TT lever, no cap, chopped half-length; 42g; Campag chorus 39t ring, 172.5 centaur cranks, record 102mm BB, 732g; DA carbon pedals 250g; Campag veloce caliper, 150g; front wheel: PX carbon laced to PX hub with conti comp tub: 660g; Rear wheel: Arc-En-Ciel laced to Royce hub with conti tub; 960g; Alien USE Carbon seatpost; 142g; SLR saddle, 123g; chain/bolts/bits/cables/sprockets, 750g (3/32 drivetrain to save weight)

Bike weight = 6.329 kg

Once you go down the route of spending money on lighter things, you then become suddenly aware of one of the truisms of cycling: it’s far far cheaper to shed weight on the rider than it is on the bike. I’m quite light, but for hill climb season i tend to take this to the edges of quite lightness. I stop eating chocolate and treats and don’t drink anything alcoholic. Incidentally, i don’t tend to drink very much at all these days anyway, it’s utterly incompatible with regular racing. In hill climb season I eat considerably less than ‘normal’ people. People seem confused that I have only one small sandwich and a banana for lunch. Race weight during the regular season tends to be 68 kilograms, or 150lbs. During hillclimb season it drops to 65kg, sometimes 64kg, or 141lbs. At this kind of weight you tend to feel dizzy and light-headed when you stand up. You can feel your ribs and your sitbones tend to make wooden chairs or benches a little bit uncomfortable. Long days at work with no snacks between frugal meals produce a feeling of emptiness. It’s at the lower reaches of the BMI index.

Combined bike and rider weight: 71kg

When out on the bike, when the form starts to arrive, you feel a sense of helium-induced invincibility and the pulse quickens at the base of any climb, a feeling endorsed by the knowledge that you can get out of the saddle and fly upwards. It’s a fantastic feeling. When I’m out training on fixed, spinning between a 57 and a 64, I sometimes get passed heading to a climb by a roadman on gears. Once the road tilts uphill the roles are reversed and the bike acquires a life of its own, the lack of weight and the relentlessness of the right gear align perfectly and I glide past the startled cyclist and leave them floundering. Occasionally they catch up on the flat some time later and a dawning recognition hits them, they’ve been skinned by a self-certified lunatic: a member of the hill climb fraternity on a specialist and home-made weapon.  

as a caveat, there is always a thinner gorilla…

thinner gorilla

On Monday I am going to Cadbury World with Belle, where apparently you can ‘create your own delicious taste sensation covered in warm liquid Cadbury Dairy Milk’. I am planning to eat the entire contents of the factory.

The Srampagmano Tales

Cycling books are pretty generic. They start off with a gentle preamble through the early days of the hero (or antihero) by looking at the moment when they got their first bike and it all rolls along happily from there. I’ve read just about every single cycling book in current publication. This includes Nicolas Roche’s journal thing. I came to the conclusion that he needs to ride a bit more and possibly win something before he writes another book. Anyway, there are some exceptions to the rule; some cycling books seem to tiptoe towards a more erudite and elegant form of prose. The highest point of the genre is The Rider by Tim Krabbe. It’s a work of understated genius and needs no further comment from me. Tomorrow We Ride is also a subtle and eloquent account of bike racing. I also really liked Laurent Fignon’s book. Outside of the professional peloton there are some gems; Nick Hand’s Conversations on the Coast is beautifully written and presented, a book about the great outdoors, craftsmanship and the significance of the journey as a metaphorical and literal process.

The sometimes uneasy mix of cycling and literature has another worthwhile addition; Scarlett Parker’s The Srampagmano Tales. Whilst it’s not unexpected that someone might write a book about the various different types of cyclists, it’s probably not expected that such a book should be written entirely in rhyming couplets and loosely (or fairly closely) modelled on the Canterbury Tales. It also has beautiful illustrations, etched in monochrome. For all these factors I urge you to get a copy. It’s cheaper than a pint of mead and available to download. It’s also funny and unerringly precise. Scarlett’s book really tickled me, and being  a fan of Chaucer, by Godde’s digne bones, I tracked him down for a few quick questions…

I bought the book. I had to install kindle on my phone. i don’t have one of them things. Where did the idea come from?

I’d written the odd poem about cycling in the past, and in the early days of the lfgss forum (a small forum back then, now a frighteningly huge internet phenomenon) I contributed to threads for cycling haiku and limericks.  It was fun, and people enjoyed what I’d written, but ultimately it was all a little insubstantial and frustrating. While those thoughts were rattling around my head, I was doing my usual thing at the time of riding up and down the short sharp climbs that criss-cross the Pilgrims Way just beyond Biggin Hill, and then I think I picked up a translation of Chaucer’s text one day to see where the pilgrims started their journey, and to scan a well known example of a certain poetic meter. A vague concept was formed.
The Pilgrim’s Way
Why the Canterbury Tales as a model?
It begins with a prologue. It describes people from a fairly broad spectrum of society, but with a common interest. It involves a journey. It begins in my home town. It involves myth, the sublime, the ridiculous. My original working title was ‘The Campagnolo Tales’, but in the end I wanted to avoid legal ramifications and tedious accusations of being a componentry partisan. I’m not a big Chaucer scholar or anything.
Regarding the couplets, do you sense a link between the metrical certainty of the iambic (largely) couplet and the mechanical rhythm and cadence of cycling?
Yes, definitely. I’d not really tried writing iambic pentameter to any great degree before, but it seemed the go-to choice for a more narrative project. Writing and performing lyrics was something I’d done a lot in the past – I spent over a decade recording solo music and playing in bands – and despite eventually getting sick of all that, I still have a very musical brain. When I got back into cycling as an adult, I quickly realised that rhythm was the main thing that propelled me further or faster. I devoured literature on training and technique and so on, and certainly made conscious efforts to implement much of what I read, but it was always those moments where the hypnotic movements of the automaton kicked in, orchestrating the engine, that I’d find myself riding most strongly. The same thing happens with writing verse.  You practise, neurological connections are primed, you flounder, you focus, and then suddenly the rhythm’s driving you along, like a stoker.  You just sit up front and decide when to change direction or put the brakes on. And what else but heroic couplets could do justice to the noble feats of strength and endurance synonymous with cyclesport. Or something.
You identify a number of ‘tribes’ or ‘groups’…. do you feel that this reflects the plurality of cycling culture at the moment? 
I realise it’s natural for readers to ascribe themselves (or acquaintances) to the groups in my book, but I’m slightly bored with the ‘cycling tribe’ rhetoric that’s been floating around the wider cycling media for a while now.  It’s no doubt a result of the cycling resurgence in countries where it’s been suppressed by car culture for such a long time, and the need to seek or assign identity within the amorphous whole. Humans clearly like belonging to a group, but would prefer it to be a ‘reasonably sized’ group. The tribes that I saw described, however, tended to be driven more by fashion than cycling heritage, and so I decided to go with the latter when deciding on a set of characters.  Some have been around longer than others, but I think they’re all more about how they ride than what they wear.
Is there a group that didn’t get in? 
Originally I thought about doing 22 characters – I think that’s how many Chaucer had; but he died before writing all of the ones he wanted to, and I don’t really have the temperament to plod along on a single project for the rest of my life.  Others that I toyed with were ‘poloistas’, ‘nightriders’, ‘charity riders’, ‘commuters’, ‘tweedies’ – stuff like that. I also quickly made the decision to limit it to road riding. I’ve done some singlespeed and fixed mountain biking, and dabbled in cross and BMX, but I think I lacked the insight for those disciplines, and ultimately lacked the interest too.
I’m keen on all the characterisations, but have a clear affinity with The Tester’s Tale; “a float day on a fast course would be nice… just one within my lifetime would suffice’, not to mention the marshalls in the rain… Which one do you feel closest to? 
Well, as the narrator of the piece, my identity isn’t fully divulged, but ‘puncheurs‘ get a brief mention, and that’s what I am. The moments when I really come alive on a bike are short sharp climbs, sudden inexplicable accelerations, putting the hammer down on twisty undulating terrain.  Too slight to be an out-and-out sprinter, too heavy to be a mountain goat, too impulsive to time trial well. Having said that, I’m also made up of all the characters, just like many other cyclists.  It’s a broad church, and people like to experiment. I tend to ride how my mood takes me, and I’m a bit schizoid.
it strikes me as a celebration of the bicycle, as much as the people that ride it… 
Yes, and no. We decided on a ‘no bicycles’ rule for the illustrations, aside from a bit of wheel on the cover. This was partly because my wife hates drawing them, but also because I think there’s enough other stuff out there fetishising the object. It’s always there, facilitating, but I wanted to keep the focus on the riding as much as possible. It’s about who we are in the context of riding, but of course the bicycle’s the conduit. I’m not immune to the aesthetic, or the technological, but I like bicycles best when they disappear beneath you, and all that’s left is the rhythm and the road.
What do you hope people take away from the tales?
A sense of fellowship, and a desire to ride their bikes and collect tales of their own.

Burrington Combe Hill Climb: Fix Up Look Sharp!

Last night i didn’t sleep fantastically well. It was classic case of ‘race eve nerves’. At one point I was literally dreaming about the Burrington Hill Climb. In my addled and sleep-deprived mind I dreamt that Tavis Walker obliterated the course record with a 6.21, slicing a mere 30 seconds from Tejvan’s mark in 2011. I was glad when morning came around. I ate some nutella on toast and then rode down to the Mendips.

In a roundabout sort of way I tend to target the Burrington Hill Climb (even in my dreams). I know that not having form for September and the 1st week of October is fine, as long as I can sense that it’s not far away. I’m sure it’s the same for most cyclists, but you tend to know when you’re heading in the right direction: things start to feel good and the weight stays at the right place. More so than that, riding uphill at a brisk tempo becomes relatively easy. Last weekend at Holme Moss and Jackson Bridge I felt as though I was getting there; i felt light and relatively quick, even if the time and placing told a slightly different story. I had an inkling that a few more training rides this week followed by a short taper – essentially 2 full days rest – would do the trick. If i time it right then it carries over into the last week of the season and the National Hill Climb, which is pretty much what happened last year.

The Burrington Hill Climb is my favourite event and it’s the one that means the most to me in cycling terms. 3 years ago, it was my first event and I came 5th. I’ve already said this in this blog, so apologies for repetition. Essentially it kickstarted everything else that you may have since read about. It led to a transformation from being a weekend leisure cyclist, if not too hungover, to becoming a fully fledged racing snake. Burrington is an absolute measure of progress in terms of placings. If I do well, then the season suddenly becomes much more successful than it might have seemed 8 minutes previously. It’s also a classic roadman’s climb – tough and challenging, but also long and without any evil pitches in gradient. This suits me down to the ground, you can just about ride it at threshold, a sort of TT pace but slightly above the 10 mile effort, without needing to go into the total paroxysm of oxygen death. With the exception of the sprint for the line, of course.

The event was fantastically well supported with the biggest number of spectators I’ve seen on the Combe road. The bend before the cattle grid was lined with eager spectators, gladiatorially cheering the combatants onward and upwards. I confess: i forewent a long warm-up and for the first half of the race I was also cheering before heading down to race, then sneaking back down after my ride to catch the last 10 or so. The atmosphere was fantastic, pots, pans and cowbells were ringing out along with shouts and cheers. Rich Lewton took some super pictures.

Marc Allen throws his gurn at the climb, i wave a cowbell and shout aggressively in his face to help matters along.

I had a minor degree of gear anxiety before this event. My sneaking suspicion was that it would be quicker on gears, but I’d opted for fixed, so that was that. I stuck a 16 tooth cog on the back (39 on front), aiming for about 64″ which should have been just right, but I feared might be a tiny bit light on some of the faster (flatter) sections. I knew that Tavis Walker was also riding fixed, along with some other riders further down the field, possibly one or two more.

Tavis on a particularly lush 27″ Rotrax Super Course.

A quick run up the climb confirmed that it would be fine. I always forget that essentially you’re not going to spin out a 64″ gear going uphill. 19mph requires a cadence of 100rpm, the race is won with a 16mph average speed. Competition at the top was ferocious, with Rob Gough fresh from his win at Catford, Glyndwr Griffiths alongside having won at Cardiff Byways and nailed 4th at both the Cat and Bec, and Tavis still pedalling in the same super smooth circles he turned in a season of successful elite road racing for Wilier.

Whilst warming up Tavis said he thought the climb ‘had my name on it’. I was a bit sheepish and doubted this. He then said (and I might be paraphrasing slightly, but this is very much the gist):

‘Sometimes you just have to turn up and smash it, and know you’re going to smash it, and then get out on the road and smash it’.

I definitely had managed the first bit; the ‘turning up’, but it was the second bit that I was a bit unsure about. I told him i would certainly try and smash it. In truth, I knew i’d throw the kitchen sink at the climb, because I know the climb and was fairly sure about how to pace it.

I used my Casio wristwatch as a timer. This means starting it when the timekeeper gets to ’10’. I always forget this and then think my ride is even slower than I thought it was. This can have a beneficial effect in that I then try a bit harder to rescue things. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a Garmin on the bike. The lower slopes were fine, i got into a rhythm but with a real sense of urgency, I kept asking myself if I could turn it a bit quicker, maybe go a bit faster. I didn’t want to lose any time or pace. Rounding the corner and onto the straight ahead of the bend I could see a line of people curving round and could hear the noise reverberating around the tree-lined walls, impelling me upwards.

James Chant passes the sea of colour and noise, chasing that elusive sub-9 minute ride
(pic Rich Lewton)

Once over the cattle grid I checked my watch and the time was surprisingly slow. I didn’t think I was having an off-day, but it was just ticking over at about 7 minutes. I distinctly remember thinking that Tejvan would have finished by now (going by last year’s staggeringly quick course record) and I still had about a minute to go. The dreamtime Ur-Tavis would have finished an hour ago. At this point you don’t tend to think, ‘oh it must be a slow day’, you just tend to think ‘i’m not going well or anywhere near quick enough, but I hope that it’s the same for everyone and maybe, just maybe it’s a slow day and I can be happy with a slow time’.

mendip murkery

At the top the fog was fairly dense and it made it very hard to see the finish. You had to trust your instincts and get it all out anyway. I was rasping like Keats in Rome,  but finally managed to see the rusty cars on the right and the bright timekeeper’s umbrella on the left which signalled the cessation of hostilities. The casio said i’d managed it in around 7.50 or so. I spun back down to the bend and cheered on the remaining racers. For about ten minutes i struggled with deep feelings of nausea. I overcame these by shouting at riders.

the end of the race, the onset of nausea

it’s always great to see other riders going up, and something you don’t always get the chance to do. I cheered on Rob Gough by doing an old fashioned TdF close-up shout and cheer.

4 times as long as the Cat or Bec…

It was great to see so many first-timers taking on the unrelenting but curiously addictive challenge of the hill climb. Dan Levrier rode fantastically well, taking 17th place and carding a 9.05. It would have certainly been sub 9 if he’d reversed the cap and ditched the wellies.

Dan Levrier, bag maker and coffee enthusiast, gives it some welly

And i also managed to witness a few other people trying to put down a marker in the most contested competition of the year: Faces of Pain, 2012…

Every sinew is at the limit. The nose runneth untempered.
Tom W closes his eyes and for a few stuttered moments glimpses Elysium
Afterwards, Tom Ilet said, ‘I rode the perfect 6 minute hillclimb’. This photo was taken at around the 7 minute mark. Tom is now a clear frontrunner in FOP 2012.
I hope that this slightly skewed grin is a primitive response to pain and not a sign that Mark is actually enjoying the experience.

I was still no nearer to knowing how i’d done. I bumped into Rob Gough on the way back to the HQ and he said he’d ridden a 7.51 and was lying second. I suspected this left me in first place, waiting on Tav’s time. This was confirmed when I saw the results board; i’d managed a 7.48.9 to Rob’s 7.51.4. Glyn had handed in a 7.52.9. It was suddenly squeaky bum time. After an eternity, the remaining times were delivered by hand. Tavis managed a 7.52.3.

I’ve won 4 open events this year. Each one has been pretty amazing, but I’ve not felt overwhelmed at any point. Today was entirely different. Of all the events I’ve ridden, this one singularly means more than the rest. To win the event was overwhelming. I felt emotional and elated; my peers were incredibly gracious in their praise. Even now, as I type this, I find it hard to believe that I’ve won against such stellar and impressive riders. I’m also thrilled to bits that i managed it on fixed wheel. This shouldn’t surprise any devotees of the sport, but in these days of super-light alien weaponry, riding a Bob Jackson with 631 Reynolds tubes is a slightly brave step. Possibly not as brave as riding a 1950 Rotrax, but on a par. Bristol South CC took the team prize, unsurprisingly, with 1st, 3rd and 4th (and 7th and 10th) and the fixed prize went to Malcolm Chave of Okehampton – the chap who sportingly rode up Haytor on a 64″ gear earlier this year. Lucy Walker took the ladies prize, just nudging ahead of Claire Greenfield and Christina Gyles – a sharp BSCC ladies’ team if ever there was one.

In a sense, my season is done. It’s changed from being a pretty surprising and successful year to being something else entirely – a year that I’ll probably look back on with a mixture of awe and amazement and will be proud of in future. After getting a bit of a kicking on a few different climbs, along with a great ride on Haytor, it all came together at the right moment. I’m proud to have won this event for Bristol South CC and for John Kempe.

Constancy of purpose is the secret of success…

National Hill Climb 2012

careful with that handrail, eugene

The National Hill Climb this year takes place on Rawson’s Rake in Ramsbottom. It’s known simply as ‘The Rake’ and takes anything upwards of about 2 minutes and 20 seconds. If i can get under 3 minutes i’ll be pleased.

The contenders have been honing their form in events all over the place, with some eschewing the longer stuff in favour of the sharp and nasty lumps, hoping this will give them the legs and lungs for a crack at the biggest prize of them all. Tejvan Pettinger is avoiding Burrington this year and has been seen far from his usual hunting ground, hurting himself on the molehills of Reading in an attempt to galvanise those fast-twitch muscles into life. Rob Gough has been his usual imperious self at Catford, and Matt Clinton has suddenly found some course-record bagging form. The scratch rider is Gunnar Gronlund, last year’s winner. Second seed is Jack Pullar who scalped almost everyone at Monsal Head, including the Downing brothers. Lynn Hamel is looking good for another victory in the women’s event, but it’s also good to see previous champion Ann Bowditch back on the startsheet.

I’m off at 77. It’s a nice number. I am happy with this. I am not seeded and have very few expectations. It’s not a climb that suits me so I will be pleased if I don’t disgrace myself. I intend to do what i did last year, albeit at a distance some 3 and half miles shorter, and ride as hard as I can. I would also settle for 24th, but suspect I will be coming in some way down the field. I will also be riding the orange hillkiller with a 57″ gear. I am looking forward to seeing the massed ranks of the Blackburn CTC, including messrs Stott, Helliwell (x2) and Edmondson. They are good value.

Above all, it promises to be a real corker of an event. With Peter Graham at the helm it can’t really fail to be anything else other than spectacular. If you are near Ramsbottom in about ten days time, come along and watch. It takes place on a closed road and the atmosphere is unlike anything else in cycle sport. At the very least you will be a vicarious witness to the privations of each rider as they struggle with the gradient, the bicycle and themselves.

Hell Climb

Dundry Hill sits silently on the outskirts of Bristol, luring unsuspecting cyclists to their doom. It offers up 4 different ascents of varying degrees of steepness. The climb up from Queens Road is the beast of the litter. It’s known simply as ‘the steepside’, but is also called ‘Broad Oak Hill’, and it pitches up alarmingly. East Dundry is reputedly even worse, with a scarred and pitted road surface and a savage gradient. I have fond memories of trying to ride up it on a 60″, but being unable to sit down because it was too steep, and unable to stand up because of the most ridiculous wheelspin. It didn’t help that the tyre tracks looked like they’d been carved by chariots and the road was smeared with cowshit. In stark contrast, the ‘easiest’ takes in Highdridge road and climbs gently for about a mile before throwing in three short, sharp ramps and a nasty bend. This last one was the setting for an atypical ‘guerilla’ hill climb this afternoon, laid on by the mighty Hamilton Wheelers.

Tim Wilkey of the Hamilton Wheelers. The bins in bishopsworth are wifi enabled.

It attracted around 45 riders, divided into 3 categories: pros, bros and girls. To qualify for the pros you had to have ridden either a CTT or BC race at some point. It’s a loose interpretation of the word ‘pro’, but with my palmares (audible chortle) I was happy to ride with the other ringers. It was essentially a hillclimb with riders off at minute intervals. There were some added bonuses, including some hand-ups along the way.

Hand ups. Bank of Hell.


This is a great idea and tends to be something you see more at cyclo-race races. The Muddy Hell event at Herne Hill has a shortcut which includes the enforced imbibing of a shot of tequila. Incidentally, Muddy Hell was responsible for some of the most inspired and impressive fancy dress bike handling ever seen.

I was off near the end with the other pseudopros (sounds like something taken as part of a TUE). The weather was lovely, in fact it’s been a particularly lush weekend to be out on the bike. Despite yesterday’s races, or perhaps in spite of, I felt really good and the legs were working well. I went out fairly steadily on the first bit where there isn’t much of a gradient, there’s only so much you can do with a 65″ gear before the bike transforms into torture device. I waited until the left turn for strawberry lane, maybe a bit before, then i went full gas. I grabbed a dollar and felt really pleased with myself for doing so, then carried on up to the finish where a stonking great crowd had amassed to watch the riders. There was a surge of noise and it was all over in about 5 minutes and 40 seconds.

Mark kept his race face on. Not for him the indignity of racing for socks.
No such issue for me. I wanted that dollar. And those socks.

Lucy Walker absolutely blasted up to take the girls’ prize with a savage 7 minutes something. She will go well on Burrington. Dan Alford took the bros’ category with a pre-meditated assault on the climb and a time which would have got second in the pros, coming in with a 6.45 or thereabouts.

BSCC chairman Dave Braidley looking resplendent in his ‘Hell Climb’ jersey

It was a fantastic end to the weekend and great fun. Events like these, run slightly surreptitiously and open to anyone, represent the first steps in competitive cycling for many people and it was clear that some people were getting the bug. In fact, my first race of sorts was a hilly alley cat three stage thing in Bath. Having had some completely unexpected success i figured i may as well enter CTT hill climb. I then had a further bout of completely unexpected success. I have had three years since where competitive cycling has been a defining feature of my life and a constant source of happiness and wonderment.

Just when you’re thinking about hitting up Wiggle for a winter gilet, you win this badass piece of technical fabric. BEST PRIZE EVER.


The Hell Climb is grass-roots and community based, not because that’s necessarily what Tim, Ed and Christian set out to do, but just because it is. Above all, it’s hugely enjoyable and doesn’t take itself too seriously. Right now, with a miasma of deceit, lies and denial swirling around the professional sport in all its forms, grass-roots and amateur cycling is where it’s at. A huge pile of real-life kudos to everyone who rode today.

Hup, Hup, Hup.



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